Knowing When to Stop

[The following passage is cited in John Barsby’s Commentary on Ovid’s Amores I as evidence of the claim, “According to Seneca the poets reckoned him among the rhetoricians, though the rhetoricians reckoned him among the poets.” It is difficult to see how one could read this passage from Seneca in that way unless one simply took the phrase “inter oratores Ovidium” entirely out of context.]

Seneca, Controversiae 9.5.17:

“Montanus has this fault: he ruins his sentences by repetition. Not being content to say one thing well once, he brings it about that he does not say it well. And on this account and for other reasons by which an orator may seem similar to a poet, Scaurus used to call Montanus ‘an Ovid among orators.’ For Ovid too did not know to leave off something which had ended well. Not to bring up too many examples, I will be content with this one instance of what Scaurus called Montaniana: when Polyxena had been abducted so that she could be sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles, Hecuba said,

The buried man’s ashes themselves fight against our race.

Montanus could have been content with this, but he added,

We feel the enemy even in the grave.

Not content with this, he added,

I was fertile for Achilles.

Scaurus had it right: it is no less an important virtue to know how to speak than to know when to stop.”

Image result for ovid amores woodcut

habet hoc Montanus vitium: sententias suas repetendo corrumpit. dum non est contentus unam rem semel bene dicere, efficit, ne bene dixerit. et propter hoc et propter alia, quibus orator potest poetae similis videri, solebat Scaurus Montanum ‘inter oratores Ovidium’ vocare; nam et Ovidius nescit quod bene cessit relinquere. ne multa referam, quae ‘Montaniana’ Scaurus vocabat, uno hoc contentus ero: cum Polyxene esset abducta, ut ad tumulum Achillis immolaretur, Hecuba dicit:

cinis ipse sepulti in genus hoc pugnat.

poterat hoc contentus esse; adiecit:

tumulo quoque sensimus hostem.

nec hoc contentus esse; adiecit:

Aeacidae fecunda fui.

aiebat autem Scaurus rem veram: non minus magnam virtutem esse scire dicere quam scire desinere.

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